Respectful Insolence

I’m a bit cranky right now.

Long time readers are familiar with the logorrhea that usually characterizes this blog. Fans love it; detractors hate it, Some may have noticed a bit of paucity of blogging, at least relatively speaking. There’s a good reason for this. Not only was I out of town last weekend, but I got to come back to be on call (i.e. on service) for the group while at the same time trying to finish a grant application that my institution had “honored” with a nomination to fill out–only two weeks before it was due. Yes, now is not a great time to be around Orac; his crankiness is starting to irritate those around him, and he hasn’t had a chance to vent a bit.

Enter Mike Adams.

Fortunately (I think) for you, it’s just what I needed, if I can delve into the idiocy and conspiracy-mongering that characterizes Adams’ NewsTarget site and not lose too many neurons. Certainly Mark Hoofnagle was able to, with his demolition of a truly silly piece on Newstarget claiming that microwave ovens destroy the nutritional value of food. I humbly submit to you, though, that although the piece Mark deconstructed was exceedingly dumb, this article, entitled The World According to the FDA and Big Pharma, cranks the stupid up to 11 and then, not satisfied with that, adds a second amplifier of stupid also cranked all the way up to 11. How the man manages to remember to breathe in the morning is a puzzle, as his brain seems to consist of two neurons connected by a spirochete. It’s a good thing Mike apparently doesn’t believe in antibiotics; otherwise, the spirochete would die, with disastrous consequences.

And so it begins:

As clear-thinking people, natural health consumers sometimes look at the actions of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and wonder what planet its decision makers seem to be from. It’s like the FDA is living in a completely different world than the rest of us — a world where nutrients are dangerous, but synthetic chemicals are perfectly safe for human consumption.

In fact, the idea that FDA bureaucrats and modern medicine promoters are living in a different reality is not far from the truth. I my view, FDA decision makers have no connection with reality. They’re simply operating on a system of false beliefs and circular reasoning that justifies their efforts to protect Big Pharma profits by exploiting, misleading and directly harming the public.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

The FDA may have many problems, but if you really want to see someone disconnected from reality, just browse the NewsTarget site for a while. Go on. Take a break and do it. I’ll be right here waiting for you when you’re done. Just be careful. The words that flow from Adams’ keyboard to his website are highly toxic to neurons, not to mention any scientific or critical thinking skills you might have. You might want to innoculate yourself by perusing the Cochrane Collaboration or maybe James Randi’s website for a bit beforehand.

But, as I said before, I’m in a bit of a cranky mood; so let’s dig in:

Have you ever wondered what rules and beliefs actually drive FDA decisions in that alternate reality? As a service to NewsTarget readers, I’ve assembled a few in this article. These are the rules that define the dogma of modern “scientific” medicine and pharmacology marketing. These rules are followed by FDA bureucrats, drug company executives, psychiatrists, doctors, hospitals and everyone who’s currently profiting from the failed system of medicine operating in the United States today.

These rules, by the way, are no joke. This is not a satire piece. This is a serious exploration of the beliefs under which much of modern medical science operates today.

Given the hysterically penned straw men and outright misinformation in the “26 beliefs that drive modern medicine and the FDA,” I vote satire. Maybe Adams is smarter than I give him credit for, and this whole FDA as Darth Vader schtick is nothing other than that–schtick. Maybe it’s a schtick so subtle, in reality a parody of the paranoid mindset of the very wackiest of the alternative medicine aficionados.

Nahhh.

Sadly, Adams appears to be completely serious about all 26 of these beliefs that he attributes to the FDA and big Pharma. Let’s take a look, shall we? Here they are in bold, with my response afterward:

1. All herbs are dangerous and might kill you.

Wrong. However, some herbs and plants are undeniably potentially toxic. For example, consider the foxglove plant, from which digitalis is derived. It can definitely be dangerous. In fact, the more therapeutic activity an herb or plant has, the more potential for harm it has–just like drugs made by the dreaded “big Pharma.”

2. Vitamins and dietary supplements are not only useless; they’re so dangerous that they should be regulated or banned.

This is just silly. Medicine, after all, uses a great many vitamins and sometimes some supplements. What modern medicine does not do (and alties like Adams do) is to make overblown claims about what vitamins and supplements can do. For example, vitamin C does not cure cancer.

3. The only thing more dangerous than dietary supplements is allowing the public to have access to accurate information about dietary supplements. To maintain control, the public must be kept ignorant of the medicinal uses of all substances other than patented chemicals.

Of course, what Adams neglects to mentions is that, in the vast majority of cases where the FDA has acted, it has been because quacks have been making health claims for their remedies that are not supported by evidence. Indeed, it often takes far more than it should to get the FDA to act against quacks, given that it is underfunded and understaffed.

4. Most diseases are caused by pharmaceutical deficiencies and can only be treated with pharmaceutical supplementation.

I applaud Adams here for refraining from using a famous altie “joke” about cancer not being a deficiency of chemotherapy. Adams is, of course, mistaken here. (I’d say he’s lying, but I do think he really does believe this drivel.)

5. Botanicals interfere with pharmaceuticals, not the other way around. There is no such thing as a pharmaceutical that interferes with an herb.

Wrong. If a botanical can interfere with a pharmaceutical drug, then in many cases the drug can interfere with the botanical. The reason we speak of botanicals interfering with drugs is because we know how how the drug works and what effects we expect to see. In contrast, botanicals may have many active ingredients whose mechanisms of activity are unknown or aren’t clear.

6. Scientific progress is measured by the degree to which man dominates nature.

This is the only thing that Adams has said that almost makes sense. Almost. however, as Mark asks, does Adams really want to live really and truly in nature? I highly doubt it.

7. Free speech should only be protected for drug companies, not nutritional supplement companies.

More like quacks shouldn’t be free to make claims that can’t be backed up with science. Adams is, of course, an advocate of “health freedom,” which is in reality the freedom of quacks to sell their quackery without the government being pesky about their making claims that aren’t evidence-based.

8. The 300+ synthetic chemicals now found in the blood of nearly everyone are completely harmless and have no negative health effects.

As opposed to the untested and unknown long term effects of many of these supplements that Adams likes to tout? Adams is, of course, a hypocrite. To him, all herbs and supplements are good; all drugs are bad.

9. The FDA is incapable of making mistakes, and therefore, drug companies should be granted full immunity against consumer lawsuits surrounding the injuries and deaths caused by FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. It is impossible for an FDA-approved drug to cause the death of anyone, because the FDA is infallible.

The stupid, it really does burn here. Have you heard anyone say that the FDA is “infallible”? As for the immunity claim, it’s probably Adams’ antivaccination idiocy rearing its ugly head again. The “immunity” proposed for pharmaceutical companies was for vaccine makers because vaccines are mandatory and because, after September 11, we were worried about biological attacks and didn’t want to chase companies out of the vaccine business. It can be argued that perhaps the protection went too far, but even so there is still a mechanism for vaccine-injured children to seek compensation. The courts are even still available after a claim is rejected if parents want to pursue the claim.

10. There is no need to safety test chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care products because the skin doesn’t absorb chemicals. Unless, of course, we’re talking about transdermal drug delivery products like the anti-smoking patch, in which case the skin readily absorbs chemicals.

Who says this? Really? Who?

11. Nature cannot be trusted. All herbs must be “standardized” to be safe. And even then, they’re still useless.

The reason for standardization is to get reproducible effects. It’s that simple. If you want variable and unreliable effects, then using the active compounds in the form of the herbs from which they are derived is the way to go.

12. Phytochemicals only act in isolation. Scientists can understand the physiological action of plant chemicals by isolating them, synthesizing them, and testing them one by one. There is no such thing as “synergistic action” with phytochemicals.

Yawn. It’s more that woos who claim “synergistic action” by various components of herbs never provide any evidence to show that there is any sort of synergy. Scientists, on the other hand, do look for such effects. It’s just that they usually don’t find any.

13. The only use for plant chemicals is to serve as ideas from which drug companies can synthesize patented drugs. Phytochemicals (phytonutrients) have no inherent value and their use for preventing, treating or curing any disease should be outlawed and stripped from modern civilization’s knowledge base.

I had a hard time not laughing about this one. Sure, pharmaceutical companies use plant-derived compounds to make drugs. But to say that’s the only use for plant chemicals is hilarious. Heck, the FDA can’t even really regulate plant products under current law unless there is a serious problem that can’t be ignored.

14. Shamans, medicine women, herbalists, midwives and healers are all engaged in quackery based on superstition or voodoo.

Most of them are, actually. Except midwives. Midwives are generally not quacks. Neither are some herbalists.

15. There is no such thing as bioenergy, intuition, mind-body medicine, quantum physics or therapeutic touch. The entire universe operates only on the physical and chemical levels. There is nothing beyond those two levels yet to be discovered or explored.

After all the years that we’ve been trying to find things like bioenergy, intuition, or demonstrate the efficacy of therapeutic touch and failing, it does become rather hard not to conclude that such things don’t exist and don’t work. Quantum physics, of course, does exist (whoever said it didn’t?), but quacks love to invoke it fallaciously to justify their quackery. In any case, if you believe that bioenergy exists, show us the evidence, rather than using handwaving torturings of quantum theory to explain your woo.

16. We already know everything there is to know. No new discoveries are necessary, nor are any paradigm shifts in scientific medicine. It is important that we all reject any new ideas or beliefs that threaten our existing ideas or beliefs.

Another hunka hunka burnin’ stupid. No scientist would ever claim that we know all there is to know, that no new discoveries are necessary, or that paradigm shifts are unnecessary. What planet is Adams from?

17. Drug corporations should be protected because they have the best interests of the general public in mind. The future health of the entire world depends on the research being conducted right now by drug companies.

18. Americans are lucky to pay the highest prices in the world for medication. Everyone else has to settle for “bargain” pricing, but Americans get the honor of knowing their dollars help fund the shareholder profits of the world’s wealthiest corporations, all of which deserve unlimited financial riches because they are saving the world from disease.

19. Drugs from Canada are so dangerous that they cannot be allowed to be touched or swallowed by superior Americans. Canadian drugs might be suitable for exporting to third world nations, but not to America.

These three are are a simplistic representation of real problems in pharma. What Adams neglects to mention is that his solution would seem to be nothing more than letting the quacks take over the position that big pharma occupies today. His “health freedom” would be nothing more than open season on everyone for quacks to take advantage of. For all of their problems, I’d take scientific medicine and big pharma over the sort of quackery espoused by Adams any day.

20. The best way to help consumers is to control them by limiting their options and minimizing their access to information that might confuse them.

This is getting repetitive, isn’t it? Doesn’t #20 sound a lot like #3? Bad Mike! You could have made this a list of an even 25!

21. Nutrition has no role in human health. Any talk about healing with nutrition is quackery.

Strawman. No one says that using nutrition has no role in human health. Talking about curing cancer with nutrients alone, however, as some of Adams’ fellow travelers are wont to do, is indeed quackery. There’s no good evidence that it can be done.

22.The human body is incapable of healing itself. Health can only be enhanced through chemical or surgical intervention. Patients have no role in determine their own health outcome.

OK, now Adams is just getting really silly again. A not insignificant amount of medicine is “letting the body heal itself” with a little help. The treatment of most fractures, for instance. Most inflammatory conditions, too.

23 “Science” is whatever we say it is.

24 Anything that disagrees with our definition of science is “unscientific.”

25. The “Scientific Method” is the process by which we decide what is science.

Ah, yes, these three are the familiar altie lament. Of course, the retort to this is that people like Adams, unable to show that their woo works, try instead to redefine what science is, much as “intelligent design” creationists do. Scientists get understandably testy when people try to redefine science in order to give their pseudoscience the appearance of science. Never forget when you hear someone like Adams whine about “science” or the “scientific method” that he doesn’t give a rodential posterior about science. He just wants to present science as just another belief system as a means of putting pseudoscience on a seemingly equal footing with real science.

26. Conflicts of interest don’t count if we all mean well.

Uh, no. Conflicts of interest are important, which is why there is an increasing requirement by journals and the organizers of scientific meetings that authors disclose conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest do matter, but they only serve to alert listeners and readers to be more skeptical. A scientific conclusion is based on the evidence; a conflict of interest might lead one to look more closely at the evidence used to back up a conclusion, but the existence of a conflict of interest in and of itself does not invalidate a conclusion. Of course, Adams and his ilk are selective in what conflicts of interest they castigate. Any conflict of interest due to income from or affiliation with big pharma is automatically evil. Working for a supplement company or deriving considerable income from supplements or woo can safely be ignored.

There. I feel better now. After all that’s gone on this week, I needed a good rant, and Mike Adams never fails to deliver the stupid, thus providing a big, fat target. Indeed, his website is such a “target-rich environment” that I could, if I so desired, mine it for blog fodder for many months and never run out of material. I’m sure it would get boring fairly fast, though, given that Adams is pretty much a one-trick pony (FDA and big pharma are totally evil), and that gets tiresome after a while. On the other hand, I suppose I should be grateful for such a rich vein of woo to mine whenever material doesn’t present itself. The truly depressing thing, though, is that NewsTarget has a very high Technorati ranking, with an authority score of 2,858 and a rank of 222 as of this writing. It’s truly depressing to think how many people are being misinformed by Mike Adams’ ignorant ranting and conspiracy-mongering, not to mention his promotion of quackery. But get a load of how Adams finishes:

We could add substantially to this list, but you get the idea. Isn’t is fortunate that the universe doesn’t operate from the FDA’s distorted viewpoint?

In time, by the way, our system of modern medicine will cease to exist. No system of medicine based on beliefs that contradict reality has any future.

I disagree. Sadly, many systems of medicine based on beliefs that contradict reality (homeopathy, therapeutic touch, or reiki, for example) have survived and prospered a long time and show no signs of disappearing any time soon, even as scientific studies of their claims keep failing to turn up any evidence that they have a therapeutic effect.

And useful idiots like Mike Adams are their biggest cheerleaders.

Comments

  1. #1 Bronze Dog
    August 9, 2007

    The hypocrisy of this guy is so thick you could cut it with a knife… Wait, not working. I need to fetch my zanbatou.

  2. #2 Brendan S
    August 9, 2007

    So.. Why does every damn Wooist in the world think that the FDA is somehow the same entity as Big Pharma? Aren’t they like, directly opposed to each other? If you asked Pfizer if they would like no more FDA regulation, what would they say?

    On a related note…. How come Wooists are always after the FDA and Big Pharma(tm) for ‘Being out to make money’ when their herbs and water-with-no-active-ingredients homeopathic stuff costs way more, and is tested far less?

  3. #3 MarkH
    August 9, 2007

    What’s amazing is this guy gets tons of traffic. Is technorati ranked around 222 etc. People are clearly paying attention to his nonsense.

    It’s classic denialism and Adams is a classic crank. All the criteria are there.

  4. #4 MartinM
    August 9, 2007

    This is the same Mike Adams who claims that most drugs are useless, right? I wonder how much of his list could be attributed to projection.

  5. #5 ou•tre
    August 9, 2007

    Oh yeah, FDA is so ‘evil’ but at least they are smart enough to not believe in a bottle full of cornstarch in capsules with unproven claims.

    On a pt. support forum I frequent, there has been a whole bunch of people that recentaly started taking some bee pollen product because it showed efficacy in a mouse model. *pounds head on desk* …it’s natural so it must be harmless and good for you. I feel bad for the children with the idiot parents who are feeding them this thing.

    I should post how rapamycin has shown efficacy in vitro and see if they try to illegally get some.

  6. #6 Arakasi
    August 9, 2007

    He seems to be arguing simultaneously that the FDA should be more rigorous in policing Big Pharma (an idea that has some merit, though his examples are ludicrous)while being completely hands off when it comes to Big Herba (Big Vita?)

    Wow.

    Just wow.

  7. #7 TheProbe
    August 9, 2007

    Some random thoughts…

    Is not having a migraine the absence of reading Mike Adams?

    Mike Adams is proof that there is no such thing as *INTELLIGENT* design. However, after reading his bullcrap, one wonders if Darwin may have missed a thing or two….

    Yes, WooMeisters NEED a big evil empire to whine about. In AltThink, the bigger the evil empire, the more credible the Woo. To these critters, it IS as simple as that.

  8. #8 Petri
    August 9, 2007

    Why is nature so good for us? Hasn’t humanity spent the last several thousand years trying to tame nature because it is a harsh, cold, unforgiving, dangerous place?

    Industry wants to make money. That’s the whole point. If these remedies actually could be standardized and used efficiently you can bet a pharmaceutical would have jumped on it as a way to beat the competition. Sometimes these alties sound like “sour grapes” that missed the boat on the drugs that actually work so they spout their off the beaten path remedies hoping that if they believe they work it will eventually come true.

    Unfortunately we don’t live in the Matrix. To some extent outlook and mind over matter probably has an affect on long term prognosis and survival but it surely doesn’t cure cancer anymore than it makes a car accident not happen.

    It bothers me greatly that his site gets so much attention and looks so official. I’m surprised he didn’t get a .edu address to boot. Even as skeptical as I am, his site looks convincingly trustworthy. Ugh.

  9. #9 Petri
    August 9, 2007

    Why is nature so good for us? Hasn’t humanity spent the last several thousand years trying to tame nature because it is a harsh, cold, unforgiving, dangerous place?

    Industry wants to make money. That’s the whole point. If these remedies actually could be standardized and used efficiently you can bet a pharmaceutical would have jumped on it as a way to beat the competition. Sometimes these alties sound like “sour grapes” that missed the boat on the drugs that actually work so they spout their off the beaten path remedies hoping that if they believe they work it will eventually come true.

    Unfortunately we don’t live in the Matrix. To some extent outlook and mind over matter probably has an affect on long term prognosis and survival but it surely doesn’t cure cancer anymore than it makes a car accident not happen.

    It bothers me greatly that his site gets so much attention and looks so official. I’m surprised he didn’t get a .edu address to boot. Even as skeptical as I am, his site looks convincingly trustworthy. Ugh.

  10. #10 plunge
    August 9, 2007

    Why do people not get it? Anything that does anything to the human body does so because of some ACTUAL material effect on it. These people never say so, but their line of thinking very strongly appears to be magically: merely the WORDS “natural” “herbs” and “supplements” do things to the body without ever causing chemical or physical effects.

    Once you admit that there are such material effects, however, you understand that herbs and supplements are no different from drugs, aside from the fact that they generally are huge mixes of all sorts of different things in often random doses.

    Worse, the cranks pushing this stuff if anything have a far far freer reign than almost any other industry. They crowd out drugstores with their goofy, untested products with virtually no regulation compared to actual drugs and even FOOD. It’s utter nonsense to whine about regulation compared to other industries.

  11. #11 Jon
    August 9, 2007

    What modern medicine does not do (and alties like Adams do) is to make overblown claims about what vitamins and supplements can do. For example, vitamin C does not cure cancer.

    Ah, you may say that, but you’re just trying to suppress the knowledge that megadose vitamin C can cure* AIDS and bird flu too. Just something else that big pharma don’t tell you…

    * NB: for the purposes of this statement, ‘cure’ describes any situation where the HIV or H5N1 virus is successfully killed (inc. posthumous ‘cures’).

  12. #12 Adrienne
    August 9, 2007

    Holy moly, Adams even claims that laetrile cures cancer. How retro!

  13. #13 bug_girl
    August 9, 2007

    Well, technically, you just drove up his Technorati rank by linking to him. It’s all about the links, baby.

    I try to tell my self the reason his blog is ranked so highly is that half the links are people saying “Do you believe this bs???”.
    I think this especially about the fact that Michelle Malkin’s blog is ranked 7 in the world by Technorati :(

    Also: “the stupid goes up to 11″ is brilliant. I will steal that, if I may.

  14. #14 Iskra
    August 9, 2007

    “Scientific progress is measured by the degree to which man dominates nature.”
    I’d say scientific progress is the degree to which man models nature. Control has more to do with civilization, societies and what not. Generally, I wouldn’t say that making numbers act as objects and properties constitutes domination.

    “The “Scientific Method” is the process by which we decide what is science.”
    The Argumentum ad PoMo, did this guy learn chemistry from Foucault?

  15. #15 Orac
    August 9, 2007

    Well, technically, you just drove up his Technorati rank by linking to him. It’s all about the links, baby.

    Not really. I used the rel=”nofollow” tag, and I do believe that Technorati honors that.

  16. #16 Dangerous Bacon
    August 9, 2007

    I must disagree with this critique. Adams has plenty to say that is righteous and dead on target.

    You just have to put it together in the right way.

    “…natural health…promoters are living in a different…reality. They’re simply operating on a system of false beliefs and circular reasoning that justifies their efforts to protect…profits by exploiting, misleading and directly harming the public.”

    No argument there.

  17. #17 Nat
    August 9, 2007

    16. We already know everything there is to know. No new discoveries are necessary, nor are any paradigm shifts in scientific medicine. It is important that we all reject any new ideas or beliefs that threaten our existing ideas or beliefs.

    Damn! Science has finished? I’ll be needing a new day job…

  18. #18 Samantha Vimes
    August 10, 2007

    “25. The “Scientific Method” is the process by which we decide what is science.”

    As opposed to the “making shit up as we go along” approach the woomeisters seem to favor. I know which I prefer. And I DO use herbs and aromatherapy sometimes, I just make sure I get my information on them from sources that go on evidence-based medicine.

  19. #19 Jim Lippard
    August 10, 2007

    Brendan S. wrote: “Why does every damn Wooist in the world think that the FDA is somehow the same entity as Big Pharma? Aren’t they like, directly opposed to each other? If you asked Pfizer if they would like no more FDA regulation, what would they say?”

    Large regulatory agencies often end up with the largest firms they regulate as their major constituents, having a huge amount of influence over what happens at the agency. Those firms are the biggest contributors to the election campaigns of members of Congress who write the statutes that are the basis of the agencies’ regulations. I’m more familiar with how it works at the FCC (I work in telecom for a competitive non-ILEC carrier), but I’m sure the same phenomenon occurs at the FDA, especially since the biggest pharmaceutical firms are among the largest campaign contributors.

    The regulators and the regulated aren’t the same entities, and on issues that have grassroots support from the general public, the regulatory agencies may side with the general public over the large incumbent companies they regulate (and will always try to provide lip service to such a position). But when it comes to complex technical issues, the regulatory agencies will usually see things along the lines of the large incumbents rather than their competitors.

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